Critical essay on Neo-noir films. Example

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Use of Counter-narratives in Neo-Noir and Noir Films

Film noir refers to a cinematic term that is primarily used in description of stylish Hollywood crime dramas. In most cases, the Hollywood crime dramas in question give a great emphasis on cynical attitudes and have a strong theme of sexual motivation (, n.d, n.p). The period in cinema that was referred to as noir is placed between the 40s and 50s. The use of black and white visual style is rooted into German cinematography. The Great Depression saw an emergence of crime fiction in the United States. The term film noir translates to dark film in French and was first applied in 1946 by the French critic, Nino Frank (Spicer, 2002, n.d; Palmer, 1994, n.p).

On the other hand, film neo-noir refers to a modern style in films that has elements of noir. The difference is that it has updated themes, visual elements, or media, content, and styles that are not observable in film noir of the film noir period, 40s to 50s (Schwartz, 2005, n.p).

Counter-narratives have been used in both film noir and film neo-noir by various film directors to achieve several goals. Some of the goals this style achieves in movies include disrupting, dislodging, and subverting the inevitability of the outcome of the traditional realist. Both Anthony Mighella and Roman Polanski use counter-narratives in great detail in their films, The talented Mr. Ripley and Chinatown respectively. The use of counter-narratives in these movies is impressive and educates the viewer about some pieces of the plot that the film videos do not feature. Counter-narratives as the name suggests are narratives that oppose other narratives in the movie (Hirsch, 1981, n.p).

Use of Counter-narratives in Anthony Mighella;s The talented Mr Ripley

The talented Mr. Ripley explores counter-narratives in depth to disrupt the inevitability of the traditional realist main narrative and achieves the objective quite well. First, for every statement that is made through the traditional realist narrative, there is a counter-narrative that gives a different focus of the plot and what the traditional realist narrative said before. The effect of this is that the viewer retains what the counter-narrative said more than the traditional realist narrative. Eventually the viewer understands the counter-narrative more than the main narrative.

The effect bases the entire film on the counter-narrative with the traditional narrative only hanging faintly in the background. The counter-narrative voice also appears to be stronger and more determined in explaining its point to the viewer than the traditional realist narrative voice. More details are also included in the counter-narrative than they are in the main narrative. The sharpness of the counter-narrative voice leaves the viewer more focused on it than they can manage to focus on the main narrative.

Use of Counter-narratives in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown

In as much as counter-narrative is applied in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown film, its efficiency in dislodging the traditional realist narrative is not very high. The traditional realist narrative is still sound and clear, making the counter-narrative almost non-existent. The viewer does not need to struggle to hear what the traditional narrative is talking about like is the case in Mighella’s film. Additionally, there are portions in the film where a counter-narrative does not accompany the traditional narrative, hence leaving the narrative resound in the viewer’s mind and take effect. Simply put, the traditional narrative dilutes the counter-narrative in the film “Chinatown” as opposed to “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”


In conclusion, counter-narratives is a rising style in film that has seen some use in both noir and neo-noir films. The use of this style in noir films seems to be to a less extent compared to its use in the neo-noir films.


«Neo-noir.» Collins English Dictionary — Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 27 Feb. 2015. <>.

Hirsch, Foster. «Film Noir: The Dark Side of the Screen.» San Diego: AS Barnes (1981).

Palmer, R. Barton. Hollywood’s dark cinema: the American film noir. Twayne Pub, 1994.

Schwartz, Ronald. Neo-noir: The new film noir style from Psycho to Collateral. Scarecrow Press, 2005.

Spicer, Andrew. Film noir. Harlow, England: Longman, 2002.